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Posts Tagged ‘myth and legend’

Greek Goddess Athena

The Greek goddess Athena, patron of wisdom and battle strategy.

As parents, we know that “lectures” don’t work,  but sometimes we need to get a behavioral tidbit across to our little darlings.  Have courage: before there was “the book you can’t put down”, there was “the story circle you can’t  leave”.  I have seen it time and again in my roles as a parent and as an educator: kids love mythology. Put it to use for you.

I believe that myths and legends keep a firm grip on society today  because these are “reach-out-and-grab-you” tales.    For instance, whether Homer, the author of Greek epic poems, was one person or he was actually a collective of blind/disabled beggars  given the storytelling job to be useful in society, he/they kept their audiences riveted with action, heroics, and derring-do.  It still works.

  • Want to talk to your teenager about good decision-making? The Iliad, adapted into a film as recently as 2004, is one of the greatest stories in world history.  Period.  How many  authors merit  having their work celebrated more than two thousand years after its introduction?  (And made into a Hollywood blockbuster starring  Brad Pitt, no less…but I digress.)  Greed, arrogance, family loyalty, and the consequences of one’s choices all are central to the story; the actual poem can be a challenging read for a teen, but there are graphic novels of The Iliad that make it more approachable.   I have had fantastic life-issue talks with my son based on scenes from the movie Troy. (Note: the film is R-rated, but you can find appropriate clips of various scenes on YouTube.)
  • Worried about alleged “role models” for girls in the media these days? Tell your daughter about the Greek goddess Athena, patron of wisdom and battle strategy.  No, the Greek god of strategy was not a dude.  The Greek god of war (Ares) was a dude.  So, for brute force, the Greeks had a guy; for doing things the smart way, they had a woman. ‘Nuff said.  Consider telling your daughter about the Greek heroine Atalanta, an Arcadian princess, whose father had her taken to a mountaintop and abandoned  because she was born female. Atalanta survived, though, and became an acclaimed fighter who slew an  ugly, oversized,  trashing-the-place monster called the Calydonian boar.  She would only marry a guy who could beat her in a footrace; even then, he had to trick her to win.  Athena and Atalanta rock the house.  Girls can learn a lot about can-do attitudes from them.
  •  Is your child working through anger issues? So was the  Greek hero Hercules, who was so ferociously strong that, as an infant,  he strangled a poisonous snake.  People were afraid of Hercules, who had trouble controlling his temper (to put it mildly), but when Herc learned to behave himself, he became a hero and did a lot of good for his society.   Hercules had to perform twelve famous labors as punishment for losing his temper (kind of an ancient-Greek style time out): he did such a marvelous job that he was invited to live with the twelve Greek gods on Mount Olympus… the only Greek hero ever to get that reward.  Hercules can show your child the benefits of managing his/her temper.

These are simplified versions of myths and I have only scratched the surface, but you get the idea.  Myth and legend had  historical and educational purposes in the ancient world; put these intriguing stories to work for you in talking with your children.   Kids love the plots and you will have a good time getting your point across.  Tell the story, make your point; ideally, your child will want to know more about myths.  If that happens, you will have a cornucopia of teaching opportunities at your fingertips.

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This blog is a tribute to the lasting allure of ancient heroic tales.  Although such epics as “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” first appeared more than two thousand years ago, these stories are so captivating that they remain well-known today.  For me, the lifelong literary romance began when my mother purchased a copy of “D’Aulaires Greek Myths” for me when I was about ten years old; the Greek gods and their adventures held me spellbound.  I have been a fan of  mythology ever since (and I still have that book).

Why, one might wonder, are these tales and others like them so durable?  I believe that several things are true:  these are great, ripping yarns, they deal with issues of human nature that are still present, and the Heroic Journey is a realistic metaphor for life.  Epic stories of the ancient world capture the imagination, and I offer that these tales speak to people because of the simple truths within them: greed versus generosity, loyalty versus betrayal, life versus death.

Now, as in the ancient world, myths and epics are superb teaching tools  cleverly stashed in  an often-swashbuckling  package.  Perhaps this is the literary equivalent of  hiding one’s spinach in puff pastry: it’s mighty tasty, and you still get your dark leafy greens.

My work here will be to focus on the ways that ancient tales still benefit modern society.  I am a devotee of the work of Joseph Campbell (“The Hero with a Thousand Faces”), Caroline Myss, Jean Houston (“The Hero and the Goddess”), and Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes (“Women Who Run with the Wolves”).  Each of these authors has illustrated in his or her particular way how useful the archetypes of  mythology, folk stories, and epic poems are.   Their work and the heroic legends have entranced me for years.  As homage to all of them, and to the ancient tale-tellers who began the saga, I bring you this blog; I hope that you find the ideas here useful, thought-provoking, and fun.   Whether you are a student, an educator, an observer of human nature, or a literature buff, my goal is to inform and entertain you. If I am successful, you will savor these leafy greens for the brain!

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